A Counseling Guide to the Interior Castle
The title of this blog suggests a massive undertaking. To supply one with a complete narrative and counseling guide to St. Teresa’s Interior Castle would take volumes and would require one with an acute expertise of the writings of St. Teresa. While I encourage such a work, I am here to only highlight some ideas found in the Interior Castle that can be utilized in Christian Counseling.
When a soul regains it spiritual sight, it naturally seeks entry into the castle of God. The key to this entry is prayer and meditation. St. Teresa emphasizes as a soul reaches inside and searches out God, it must first pray and meditate. A soul that cannot pray is like a body that is paralyzed. It cannot move, nor find its way. St. Teresa here teaches counselors that we must re-introduce those who have fallen to prayer. We must encourage it and guide them in it. Only through the Holy Spirit can souls be won.
The initial mansions of St. Teresa all deal with the re-entry into the castle. These mansions are filled with good souls, but nonetheless souls who battle everyday with their fallen nature. They are tied to unnecessary business of the world. Some are tied to material possessions or various vices. Yes, these souls have spiritual sight, but the will is tied to the demands of the flesh. The curse of Adam flows through our veins and taunts our good intentions. This constant battle requires fortitude but also most importantly prayer.
The souls of the first mansions seek prayer, good works and ultimately their Master in Christ. In the same way, counselors should understand that they are dealing with people who wish and seek conversion. Yet during this phase of conversion, the devil also hopes to lead astray and deceive. St. Teresa emphasizes discernment during this period. Counselors too must discern various movements within the soul. The soul as it enters deeper into the various mansions that are closer to God is experiencing an amazing transformation–but in its earliest phases, the zeal must be monitored and guided toward its proper end. This is an awesome time for a Christian Counselor to see his or her spiritual child filled with the spirit, but it is also a time of great caution and guidance. The spiritual child will need to know where and what to infuse its energies into and behold–the devil lays many traps that could lead them down the wrong road. One needs to only look at the New Age Movement and its many false doctrines regarding meditation and union.
In helping cultivate one’s spiritual child, St. Teresa offers much advice but these two ideas stood out to me. First, beyond what has been said regarding prayer and meditation, one must start to live for Christ. One must see beyond the illusion of this world and seek Christ’s will. Only through union of wills can union with God ever happen. Second, St. Teresa is very insistent that one must find Christ in one’s neighbor. If our life and ministry revolves around self instead of others, then we will never find union with God. In this way, the soul submits itself to the will of God in service of others. Through this service, the interior of the soul is rewarded greatly and the love for Christ grows until one enters the deeper mansions.
The deeper mansions may be places we have never been, much less our spiritual children. One can only imagine the joy we can feel if one of our spiritual children enters into these depths and teaches us! These deeper levels analogously reflect the soul’s engagement with Christ. Here the soul learns to purge itself of this world and a love for Christ overflows. The soul here is more apt to visions of the spiritual and intellectual and other various locutions or joys given by Christ. Yet, while the soul is given these great gifts, it still fears losing God or offending God. The soul even weeps over others who offend its Majesty and King. With these sweet gifts come great crosses.
Among the many crosses is a despair. If various consolations become less and the soul experiences various episodes of spiritual aridity, then the soul yearns for God and may even fear it offended its Lord. In this way, one can also become abundantly scrupulous in its fear of offending the Lord. It is only when mystical union or marriage occurs when the soul finds peace, security and perfect comfort in God’s will. The two wills become one.
While far from ever experiencing the inner joys of the most center mansions, I can identify one problem that we, or our spiritual children may experience in our attempts to become more holy. I think to some, it can become an obsession to do right every moment of the day– so much that scruples can torment the soul. Our nature is fallen and while it is important to avoid sin, our Lord does not wish for us to live in consistent fear of “stepping on a crack”. While systematic analysis of our spiritual life is crucial, we cannot constantly check on what mansion we are in or not in. I think St. Teresa makes it very clear that one must simply fulfill one’s vocational duty to the best of his or her ability and to allow love of God to direct our actions. In this way, the gifts of union will come when our Lord wills it. They are not to be earned but given.
If we truly love, it is not about reward but merely reciprocity of that love. Seek God and love God and we will find the deepest mansions of our soul.
If you are interested in taking Christian Counseling courses, please review the program.
Mark Moran, MA